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August 22nd, 2013
03:07 PM ET

Gay detective's mother booted from church

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='EricCNNBelief']

(CNN)–The mother of a gay detective has been booted from the Tennessee church she attended for decades.

Elders at Ridgedale Church of Christ told Linda Cooper and two relatives that their public support for Kat Cooper, Linda Cooper's gay daughter, went against the church's teachings, local media reported. In a private meeting, reports say, Linda Cooper was given a choice: publicly atone for their transgressions or leave the church.

Linda left the church.

Kat Cooper is a detective with the Collegedale Police Department. This month, she fought successfully for health benefits for her same-sex spouse, Krista, from the town.

The Board of Commissioners passed a resolution allowing for same-sex partner benefits, becoming the first city in Tennessee to do so.

Along the way, the mother publicly supported her daughter. That support appears to have led to a rift with her church.

"My mother was up here and she sat beside me. That's it," Kat Cooper told the Times Free Press of Chattanooga. "Literally, they're exiling members for unconditionally loving their children - and even extended family members."

"Her answer to them ... is that she had committed no sin in her mind. Loving her daughter and supporting her family was not a sin," Kat Cooper's father, Hunt Cooper, told CNN affiliate WTVC. "There was nothing to repent about. They certainly couldn't judge her on that because that was between her and her God, and it was not their place to judge her for that."

"The sin would be endorsing that lifestyle," Ken Willis, a minister at Ridgedale Church of Christ, told to the Times Free Press. "The Bible speaks very plainly about that."

The news enflamed the passions of critics and supporters of the church's action.

A phony Facebook page for the church was created by one critic, who posted glib messages affirming same-sex marriage shortly after the controversy went viral. "There's nothing about girl on girl in Leviticus," one post reads.

Mary Sturdibint, a Collegedale resident, told WTVC, "I don't think they should be kicked out of church. If you're going to kick out someone, it needs to be the two that are same-sex that's married. I do believe in that."

Willis declined an on-camera interview with WTVC but released a written statement.

"This is an in-church private issue. Because emotions are so inflamed at this point, I choose not to comment any further," it read.

"The church is overseen by elders. I am a minister, not a pastor and therefore, do not have the authority to speak further on this. The news is getting mixed reviews."

Multiple calls to the church and the Coopers by CNN were not returned.

Church of Christ structure

What happens next for the small suburban church remains unclear.

There is no denomination to hand down an edict praising or condemning the local church's decision.

Churches of Christ are a loosely joined group of independent churches that are autonomous by design. There is no denominational oversight, formal structure or even a denomination headquarters.

Local churches are governed by appointed elders in a structure the church traces to the early followers of Jesus described in the New Testament, said Ronald Highfield, a professor of religion at Pepperdine University.

"They're organized in congregations with their own local leadership so that no other congregation, no set of congregations, no convention can exercise any ecclesiastical discipline over another congregation," said Highfield, who is also an elder in his local Church of Christ congregation.

While there are no documents or position papers by the church on the issue of homosexuality and how members ought to interact with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender family members, he said that on the issue of sexual orientation, churches in the denomination fall on a spectrum from progressive to conservative.

Most churches, Highfield said, hold a traditional Christian belief that sex is to be reserved for married men and women and that sex outside of that marriage arrangement is wrong, regardless of what the church believes about sexual orientation.

"There is an implicit covenant when you're a member of a congregation to adhere to the scriptures and the authority," he said.

So, he said, supporting a view that could be seen as undermining the teaching of the church could be grounds for excommunication.

Highfield was unfamiliar with this particular congregation until the story broke and said as for its decision, "whether it's just or fair, I'm not going to make a judgment."

Not a new issue

For decades, churches have wrestled with the issue of homosexuality, leading to splits and schisms of individual congregations and entire churches.

Some churches, like the Episcopal Church, have shifted from the traditional Christian position on marriage to now bless monogamous same-sex unions and perform same-sex marriages in states where they are legal.

While churches that have formally shifted their policies on same-sex marriage are in the minority, Americans' opinion of such marriage has shifted significantly from opposition to support.

A CNN/ORC poll conducted in June, when the Supreme Court was deciding the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act and the validity of a California law banning same-sex marriage, 55% of Americans said marriages between gay or lesbian couples should be recognized as valid. That marked an 11-point swing from 2008, when 44% of Americans said the unions should be legal.

The public outcry about the exile of the parents of a gay adult child from this Tennessee congregation seems to mirror this shift in public opinion.

Some pollsters and commentators have pointed to tension about same-sex marriage as a reason for an exodus from churches, particularly among young people.

Many mainline Protestant churches have seen a decline in membership, while pollsters have noted a steady increase in "nones," or people saying they have no religious affiliation. In its latest surveys, the Pew Forum on Faith and Public life puts "Nones" at 20% of the population.

Pew has also noted that at the same time younger Americans are leaving churches, older Americans are returning in a pattern that matches historical trends that have shown people become more religious as they get older.

Because there is no central office for Churches of Christ, reliable numbers on membership are difficult to come by.*

When the Ridgedale congregation next updates its membership rolls, it will be crossing out the Coopers. The family told the local newspaper they were devastated to leave a church where they had been active for 60 years.

For now, both the Coopers and their former church are standing by their own convictions, and after six decades of traveling together, they are heading in different directions.

 

*Update

Difficult, but not impossible. There are 12,438 Church of Christ congregations in the United States with 1.55 million adherents according to publisher 21st Century Christian's annual "Churches of Christ in the United States" which they have compiled since the 1970s.
H/t @BobbyRoss

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Gay marriage • Gay rights

soundoff (3,329 Responses)
  1. dike

    The church draws the line at child molesters.... any more worse than that you will be booted...

    August 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  2. EdL

    Seems to me a church has the right to kick out any member they so desire, and those who may be kicked out should be glad to join another church.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  3. Yuphah Kingkhuntz

    Jesus would spit on these people.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  4. David B.

    Just your regular backwoods, inbred rednecks.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • bannister

      Funny that you should mention inbreeding David. Did you know that Jews are most inbred population group in the world? That's right, The Tribe has been breeding within their tiny nomadic tribe for the last 10,000 years which accounts for their high intelligence as well as a number of genetic diseases, Tay Sachs, Goldman Sachs, etc.

      Perhaps you should learn a little more about genetics before you go talking about things you don't understand....

      August 22, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
      • Red

        Kinda missed on that one, Bannister. You tried to prove the guy wrong, but ended up just ripping on Jewish people.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  5. adibese

    Religion is good at making good people bad.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  6. SusieKJ

    I wish more could see that they can live an ethical and compassionate life without a god or a church. I guess some people need a "stick" rather than creating their own "carrot".

    August 22, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  7. Gregg

    Churches suck.
    If Jesus were real, and he did come back, the first thing he would do is crucify the church leaders, televangilists and politicians for using his name to get rich, oppress, go to war, control, guilt and just about anything else you can imagine.
    Then, he would have at least something to work with again.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • Crashman

      If Jesus did come back and try to do any of those things, those same people would label him insane and lock him up where he couldn't talk publicly.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  8. Lance Bowser

    I left "the Church" many years ago... couldn't be happier without that nonsense!

    August 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • knowthetruth

      True Christians don't hate.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  9. Nunya

    They were informed that it went against the church's teachings and "Cooper was given a choice: publicly atone for their transgressions or leave the church" Good to know, the Church of Christ's teachings include intolerance. I mean, because that was what Christ was all about amirite?

    August 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  10. midwestmatt

    Go figure. One more reason I'm an atheist. The Church is corrupt, through and through, full of hypocrites, liars, cheats and sanctimonious fools.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  11. rodney vero

    Christian church-goers are the first to throw what their religion tells them: they are the first to JUDGE; they are the first to forget about FORGIVENESS; and, based on actions like this, they are the first to ignore the commandment: Love Thy Neighbor. It is they who will be judged at the gates of heaven, then we'll all be able to sit and watch them beg for forgiveness for not loving their gay neighbors. Rot in Hell you hating, unforgiving judges of what's right/wrong!

    August 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      Are you a Rotwhiley Coyote??

      August 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  12. ll

    Ironic that there is no 'Christ' in the Ridgedale Church of Christ.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Lairdan

      Jesus would be pretty disappointed with a bunch of mortals playing God. The adulterers, the thieves the former convicts all welcome but an honest women that loves her daughter. They lost.....

      August 22, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  13. TKO

    And Jesus was very likely gay himself–a 33 year-old unmarried Jew living in Palestine 2000 years ago? Unheard of! Surrounding himself with men? And then there is the apostle "that Jesus loved." What's that about? I thought he loved all of them.

    You do the math.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      You practice nutzoism.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • guest

      If you only knew what you were talking about you might sound intelligent. You don't enven know what love is about.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  14. Jenni S.

    Not terribly surprised. I went to the same church for years – started when I was about 3 and continued until I was 18. At that time I was on the opposite end of a prayer in school debate than my church. I then got a visit from the church saying that all records of my Baptism, membership, etc. couldn't be located and maybe I'd prefer to go to another church.

    I've found that churches can be hateful and judgmental sometimes. I've gotten tired of trying to find a church, so now I commune with God myself while I'm out working in my garden.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • sam

      I'd say you've made the right choice.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  15. QS

    Religion – the world's ultimate dividing force.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • TKO

      To which of the world's 2000 religions are you referring?

      all of them? Do you really know enough about all of them to make a comment like this?

      August 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
      • bob

        dude the post is against religion cant u tell ?

        August 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
      • QS

        Any and all. Let's just say I know all I need to know about any religion to make that statement.

        August 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  16. Roberto

    Oh my goodness. This one speaks to me. I'm not gay. But I was born into a family that attended (fill-in-the-blank) Church of Christ for years...until I was about 18. (I'm "currently unaffiliated"–thank you George Clooney) and I'm approaching 60. Both of my parents were raised in the C. of C. as well as their parents, etc., etc. We, my family during the '70's, stepped away from it because of the stringent, stick-to-the-Good-Book mindset of the "elders". Someone at the time of our last affiliation with the C. of C. put forth the idea of sponsoring a Boy Scout troop. The "elders" collectively said, essentially, "You show me a Boy Scout troop in the Bible and we'll do it. Otherwise, it ain't gonna happen." Boom! We were out of there! Along with 3/4 of the congregation. The C. of C. has come a long way, in their terms, about two inches forward, that being they've probably relaxed the dress code just a skosh. Beyond that, they've entered into the 1860's. But, that's OK. They can continue to live in their little bitty tiny world. I heard a joke one time from, believe it or not, a member of one of the churches we attended: A group of people were being escorted by St. Peter through the halls of Heaven when they approached a closed door. St. Peter told the group, "Shhhh. Be quiet going past this door. Tippy Toe. So they did. After they went past it someone asked, "Why did we do that?" St. Peter replied, "That's where all the Church of Christers are. They think they're the only ones up here." Another anecdote I'll pass along, this one being from a preacher we had at a C. of C. I attended in the 60's (he was ahead of his time and a wonderful man): An individual who had the opportunity to visit Heaven and Hell was given a tour of both. First he was taken to Hell. He observed a large table laden with food with people all around it. All were bound around their arms so they couldn't bend them at their elbows to feed themselves. They were all starving. Then he was taken to Heaven and, lo and behold, he observed the same thing, people surrounding a table laden with food and their arms were bound as well, the same way as in Hell. But they were feeding each other.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • MK

      This man's description of the C of C is exactly right on... this from the opinion of a son of a C of C preacher... an insider as it were. I am sooooo not associated with this group any longer.... I'm also a gay man... imagine that.

      His story of the C of C'ers in heaven is a story I've heard many many times... I had to chuckle when I started to read only the first two or three words because I knew exactly what he was going to say.

      Although I will say about some within the church are much more progressive and accepting than the leaders of their congregation may like. This was also a church that taught me about how to live a life of honor and conviction; for me it has translated to standing up to my word, following through with commitments and thinking of the well being of others. I do think it was because of the church (people) experiences I had.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
      • dana

        I grew up in the church of Christ ... I'm also a gay man. An older friend of mine, an Elder's son, was beaten up after sunday school once for being too 'girly'.

        August 22, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
      • Roberto

        If nothing else, going to church gave me a true sense of treating my fellow man with respect and dignity. I think that, alone, is the true meaning of spirituality. No exclusions. Everyone deserves that.

        August 22, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
  17. SixDegrees

    Evangelical christianity: the religion of intolerance and hatred.

    Sometimes, when it's quiet, you can hear their god's leathery wings rustling.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Amy

      Define Evangelical christianity

      August 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • SixDegrees

        The kind that's intolerant and hate-filled.

        August 22, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  18. mikey

    So ... I don't recall Jesus kicking people out of anything... I DO however recall him inviting and associating with those that others cast out as sinners... interesting how churches who say they believe in Jesus and his teachings continue to do exactly the OPPOSITE of what he did and taught...

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

    August 22, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • MK

      Actually there is the story of him driving the money changers out of the temple.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  19. JustStopIt

    Calls to tax this particular church are silly. Tax them because they have different beliefs than yours? I'd be more in favor of removing the tax-exempt status of all churches. After all, Jesus said "Render unto Caesar what is Caesars'." No truly religious group good argue against Jesus, could they?

    August 22, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • ME II

      "No truly religious group good argue against Jesus, could they?"

      "...with God all things are possible."

      August 22, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  20. BubblesB

    Aren't they just a fine bunch of Christians????

    August 22, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.